Submitted by Michelle Stirling
At the crack of dawn on May 6, a group of more than 50 students gathered at the pink building of Ponoka Elementary School and then boarded the bus for the “stars.”
The Ponoka Elementary School Choir was off to Edmonton to compete in the Alberta Music Festival Association’s Provincial Festival. They were honoured to represent the Lacombe Music Festival where they had competed earlier this spring and had been adjudicated as being ‘superior’ in performance.
The provincial festival was May 5 to 7 for choral, and for solo, ensemble and choral speech May 25 to 28 this year, all at the McDougall United Church in Edmonton — the ideal acoustical setting for such performances.
Upon arrival, competitors and excited parents in the audience were stunned to learn that this is the only provincial music festival in all of Canada. This festival is a culmination of and tribute to the 35 local music festivals across the province and the many dedicated volunteers, patrons, foundations and corporations who make it happen —this year with special thanks to Servus Credit Union, as the emcee noted.
Ponoka Elementary was led by Althea Lewis, accompanied by the ever-faithful Michelle Blanchette, assisted by Mrs. Berniak and a band of chaperones (and the bus driver) — all of whom could have been enjoying a PD elsewhere — all of whom are dedicated to giving Ponoka’s musically-inclined children this chance of a lifetime.
Competitors came from across the province — Lethbridge, Drayton Valley, Wetaskiwin, Fort McMurray, St. Albert, Calgary, Olds, Drumheller and Edmonton and the morning’s competition was just part of a much larger program involving students of all ages.
Ponoka Elementary looked very snappy in their special blue choir T-shirts and best dress as they sang the beautiful “Snowflakes” and “A World of Difference.” Their beautiful blended voices soared in harmony in the elegant old church.
Adjudicator Gerald van Wyck was certainly up to the challenge. He is the founder and music director of the Pacific Spirit Choir and Children’s Choir, and is music director at West Vancouver United Church since 1987. He also teaches music history and conducting and was music director of the internationally acclaimed BC Boys Choir.
Choirs sat enthralled listening to their counterparts — indeed this is an essential value of the festival as young singers get a chance to see and hear what and how others perform.There were local songs, American folk songs, a song in Zambian, in Hebrew, in Japanese and — English, of course.
Following the choral presentations, the adjudicator took a good half hour to run all the students through some interesting choral exercises for ‘putting the egg in the mouth’ to get rounder notes and more ‘head tone’ — also instructing on how to lift the sternum with pride so as to stand tall and fill the lungs from the belly.
He also detailed his comments for each choir, explaining the highlights he noted about their performance or style as well as providing tips on areas for improvement; in general he was very pleased with the performance of our own group of ‘gleeks,’ as were all the parents in attendance.
The first place winner was Monsignor Fee Otterson Honour Choir of Edmonton, conductor Elise Barber. In second place was St. Gabriel’s School, conductor Nathanael Laws, Fort McMurray Oilsands Rotary.